The US government has launched a criminal investigation into CIA interrogations as a declassified report revealed threats to kill a suspect’s children and the use of an electric drill to scare another detainee.
The document, compiled by the agency’s inspector general in 2004 but released yesterday, includes allegations that an agent implied that a prisoner’s mother would be sexually assaulted in front of his eyes unless he spoke.
It could lead to criminal charges against the interrogators responsible, with the US attorney general appointing a senior prosecutor to investigate claims of mistreatment.
Release of the five-year-old document came as President Barack Obama gave his approval to a new interrogation unit to be supervised by the White House.
It marks a move away from the Bush-era policy of giving the CIA the lead when it comes to questioning al-Qaida suspects.
The Obama administration denied it was sidelining the CIA.
Bill Burton, deputy press secretary to the White House, said the new High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group, would be a cross-agency body, but he confirmed that it would be led by an FBI official.
It comes as the CIA faced strong criticism over methods it employed under the previous administration.
The release of formerly classified documents followed a lawsuit from pressure group the American Civil Liberties Union.
A lot of the document remained redacted. But it did outline a catalogue of harsh interrogation techniques that many believe transgressed the rules of law.
It revealed that agents warned September 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed that his children were going to be killed in the event of further attacks in the US.
Another alleged al-Qaida member was told that his mother would be sexually assaulted if he did not speak.
Other cases highlighted in the report include that of Abd al-Nashiri, who was interrogated over the 2000 bombing of the naval ship USS Cole.
The suspect was hooded, handcuffed and threatened with both a gun and an electric drill.
In another incident, interrogators pinched the carotid artery of a prisoner causing him to nearly pass out at which point he was shaken awake. The procedure was repeated three times by the CIA agent.
US Attorney General Eric Holder was said to have been disgusted when he read a classified version of the report earlier this year.
Mr Obama has previously indicated that he does not favour prosecuting Bush administration officials in connection with alleged prisoner abuses.
Yesterday, Mr Burton said today that the president believes the US “should be looking forward, not backwards”.
But he has left the decision with the attorney general.
Yesterday, Mr Holder appointed federal prosecutor John Durham to investigate alleged CIA abuses.
In an email to CIA employees, Leon Panetta, the agency’s director, said he intends to “stand up for those officers who did what their country asked and who followed the legal guidance they were given”.
He added: “That is the president’s position too.”